Shakespearean comedy takes on Nautanki  hues
- S.D. Desai
Photos: K.D. Bhatt

August 5, 2016

‘Piya Behrupiya’, The Theatre Company, Mumbai’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous romantic comedy The Twelfth Night, initially staged and appreciated at the Globe Theatre, now presented by Neena Naishadh Parikh in Ahmedabad  (Tagore theatre, July 27) entertains all through with performances of rare abandon by young players, who spontaneously get into their characters under the resourceful direction of Atul Kumar. The dialogue given to them by the translator Amitosh Nagpal to a great extent gets improvised as does the action given by the director to an extent. In fact, there are obvious reasons to believe that the script initially in hand having gradually received a number of creative inputs, what is seen and heard on the stage is an adaptation with hues of the local Nautanki traditional folk form of North India.

The language is a delightful combination of a variety of dialects of Hindi. Atul Kumar later said the players had come with varying regional backgrounds and they were permitted to retain their comfortable ways of speaking it. A good case of a virtue out of necessity!  English, too, gets sprinkled like the icing on the cake in its all too familiar desi Indian style. Olivia (Anamika), impeccable in the Punjabi flavour of speech and gait, suddenly springs a comic surprise, for example, with her confession of having developed a ‘personal relationship’ with the Duke’s page.  Adding to the lighter tone, the page in turn insists she speak ‘please’ correctly as ‘plij’!  With no holds barred for a comic effect, the Comic Muse rules supreme. The comedy abounds in slapstick, burlesque and verbal humour. It gets raucous and grows audacious enough without turning raunchy. Olivia’s handsome lover gets away with promptly trying with his teeth to unknot her scarf entangled on her bosom. Time and again in a direct address, the players develop proximity with the viewers, who almost to a man uninhibitedly respond with laughter and claps.
“The moon shines bright! …” Lorenzo and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice celebrated their union romantically with poetry and music. The lovelorn Duke Orsino (Sudheer) turns to poetry right in the opening lines, “If music be the food of love, play on!” Feste (Pooja), the Fool, is later to burst into a song, “O mistress mine, where are you roaming?” Orsino goes on in the original, “Give me excess of it …” The makers of the Hindi adaptation Piya Behrupiya seem to get the cue from him and turn the romantic lyrical comedy into a robust musical comedy in the Nautanki format, enjoyable in its own right, all the way.
All possible ways to keep the viewers in good humour musically are delightfully explored. Folk music with the theme of love in separation and passionate longing pours out like the rains unexpected is the mainstay. What a wealth of musical forms we have had interwoven in our culture! You have rustic songs simple folks sing. The clown, known for his asides of wisdom, sings Kabir’s doohas. Toby’s (Girish) friend Sir Andrew (Raunak), unsteady on feet and having the head always reeling for obvious reasons, who has a crush on Olivia, paradoxically finds solace in Sufi lines! A qawwali contest comes in handy too. As for dance, hopping about, leaps in the air, hip-swinging, pirouettes, all largely in the Bollywood style, come close to the strong galliard of the Shakespearean time.

All this happens at a breathless pace with torrents of words and viewers gasp for dramatic silences and for delicate moments to come across. The undercurrent of melancholy in the English original gives the play character. During interaction at the end, with disarming candidness the director accepted the need to work more on this aspect. Not that the viewers are not prepared for such finer aspects of drama. In a refreshing scene just before the interval, moving from left seeking centere, Viola (Titas) beautifully gives expression to her melancholic mood. The viewers greet it first with a hush, then with spontaneous applause. Incidentally, and it’s no comment on this production, don’t words like pyar and ishq in a translated or adapted version change the nuance of a word like ‘love’?

Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.